A Maryland judge dismissed the hate-crime charge against man on trial for the murder of a Bowie State University student, saying prosecutors did not meet the burden of proof.
Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr. ruled Tuesday that the Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office did not prove the stabbing death of Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III was motivated by hate. The first-degree murder charge against Sean Urbanski is expected to go to the jury Wednesday following closing arguments. The defense rested its case Tuesday.
"We believe there is no evidence of a race-based killing," defense attorney John M. McKenna said.
Both Collins' and Urbanski's parents wept after the hate crime charge was dismissed.
The ruling was a reversal from Monday, when Hill rejected a defense request to dismiss both the first-degree murder and hate-crime charges.
Urbanski was charged with a hate crime resulting in death, which states a person committed a crime "Because of another's race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin."
While Urbanski did have racist images on his phone, the judge said there wasn't enough to prove that Collins was targeted solely because of his race.
"There is no evidence any memes were looked at in May or on May 20," McKenna argued. "The memes have nothing at all to do with what happened to Richard Collins."
Collins died after he was stabbed May 20, 2017, while waiting with friends at a bus stop near the University of Maryland, College Park. The ROTC student and recently commissioned Army officer was a few days away from graduation at Bowie State University.
Urbanski, a student at Maryland, is white. Collins was black.
Witnesses called during the four-day trial in Upper Marlboro testified they heard angry yelling before Urbanski appeared. A friend of Collins, who is white, said he thought Urbanski was looking at him when he walked up and said: "Step left, step left, if you know what's best for you."
After Urbanski repeated the phrase, Collins responded with "No." Urbanski stabbed him with a knife, witnesses testified.
Prosecutors argued that Urbanski targeted Collins because he was black, saying he was an individual "poisoned" by hatred and violence toward African Americans. They pointed to racist images that are often called memes, saved on Urbanski's phone as proof of his hatred. He belonged to a Facebook group titled "Alt-Reich: Nation."
"(The memes) tell the true story of what's in his head ... to reside in a folder with pictures of his friends and family," assistant state's attorney Jonathan Church said of Urbanski.
But Urbanski's defense attorneys argued the incident was a tragedy for everyone involved. They argued there was evidence of intoxication and "no evidence whatsoever" of a hate crime.
Urbanski didn't make any statements of hate or use racial slurs during the attack, defense attorney William C. Brennan Jr. said Monday. Collins was stabbed because he was standing closest to Urbanski when he approached the group, Brennan said.
Defense attorneys showed the jury a video of Urbanski singing and rambling to himself while in a holding cell an hour after the incident. In the 15-minute video, Urbanski repeatedly asked "What is going on right now?" and said, "I was just trying to get on the blue bus."
Toxicology expert Nicholas Lappas testified Tuesday that Urbanski would have had a peak blood alcohol concentration ranging .17% to .24% at the time of the incident if he stopped drinking anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before the attack.
A spokesman for Prince George's County State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy declined to comment on the dismissal of the hate crime charge.
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